Let me start by saying that despite never having played the first game, I was excited about being able to review Darksiders 2. I had heard good things about the first game. It wasn’t a run-away hit AAA title – or even a critics’ darling – but it had good buzz. It felt like more a hipster underground “you’ve probably never heard of them” type of good – a sleeper hit, or a cult classic sort of thing.
So I went in excited, but not exactly sure what to expect. After a little bit of confusion with the THQ sign-up to get my bonus weapons, I was off to worlds unknown. And I mean really unknown.
In my experience with video games – which is decades long and fairly extensive – I have come to a conclusion about gameplay versus storytelling. It seems that when it comes to games, either the story exists merely to drive the gameplay, or the gameplay exists merely to drive the story. It is a spectrum, to be sure, not just one or the other, but most games tend to lean heavily one way or the other.
An example of the story serving the game would be Angry Birds. It really doesn’t matter that the pigs stole the eggs to make the birds mad – the main thing is, you get to throw things to knock stuff down.
The opposite extreme is something like Heavy Rain, where the gameplay is nearly nonexistent – you are there to be told a story, and every once and while participate in that storytelling experience.
I come away from Darksiders 2 not really knowing which way this game leans. And I believe that it is mostly because I have no clue what the story is about.
Obviously, a sequel needs to pull from the original story and doesn’t need to walk you through every detail of a game you’ve already played. However, some amount of recap is good – especially for newcomers, but also for people who finished the previous game but didn’t just finish it the day before (think of all the “previously on” intros TV shows give).
I also admit that at least some of my utter befuddlement comes from being somewhat familiar with what I assume (perhaps wrongly so) was the source material. That being the Bible, or at least the Judeo-Christian tradition. I don’t know of any other source for the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” than The Book of Revelation – other than maybe the X-Men.
So thinking I knew some of the backstory already was probably a mistake on my part. While I did keep hearing things here and there that sounded like they were trying to use Christianity as the source material, they strayed so very far from it that it left me more confused than if I had never heard of the “Four Horseman” before.
Now I know this game and its predecessor are constantly compared to God of War, perhaps unfairly so, and I have tried to keep from doing so myself – but in this instance at least, I feel it is necessary. God of War takes a known story – that of the Olympian gods – and introduces its own character and storyline into it. And they do so flawlessly. Darksiders 2 does not do nearly as good of a job.
Basically they take a couple of characters and concepts from the source material and then do something so completely different with it that it left me wondering why they even used anything that already existed at all – just tell your story without trying to make it sound like anything already out there. It would be like me telling a story about a kid named Charlie Brown and his dog Snoopy and Charlie’s best friend Linus – and how they fought off the aliens from Novus 4 with their Blanket of Security and their Doghouse Dogfighter spacecraft. In this version they never mention the word “blockhead,” or any of the other Peanuts characters – and Linus isn’t a smart quiet philosopher and Charlie isn’t a loser…
Other than drawing you in with familiar sounding names, there would be no reason to base that story on Peanuts. And I think that’s what Darksiders does.
Now, before you accuse me of being upset because they are blasphemous or sacrilegious, Dante’s Inferno drew from the Judeo-Christian tradition and did so in a way that makes sense. Do I believe they are 100% true to the source material (the Bible, tradition, or Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy)? – no. Not even close, really – but the changes make sense, and the story itself makes sense.
I know I’m harping on the story. I’ll talk about the gameplay in a minute, I’m almost through.
The story doesn’t even make sense on its own. If the embodiment of Death shows up at your doorstep – and you are fully aware of who and what he is – what is your reaction? Utter fear, right? Or at least some sort of pleading for more time or something. Not for the people you meet in this game.
Here, it is more like, “Oh, I was wondering how long it would take you. Before you destroy me and everything I hold dear, would you mind going to light this fire for me, and maybe pick up a few special rocks along the way so I can make a bracelet before you send me into everlasting torment? Thanks, you’re a peach!”
Another thing: Let’s say that you are a weapons-maker, you just met Death, and you ask him to go fight Chaos for you… OK, makes sense I guess – but then when he asks you to maybe make him a weapon to make it a little easier for him to kill Chaos you’re like “Meh – even though we’re all safely locked behind this massive unopenable gate with absolutely no enemies to fight on this side of the wall, and nothing more to do than to stand around making weapons all day, I am not going to give you any weapons, Mr. Bringer of the End of all Worlds, until you prove to me you can fight. So go face something I’m too scared to battle on my own, even with my magic super-awesome weapons, and if you survive … (Death can die, too, right?) … then I might sell you some gear.”
There is just too much to have to overcome to even begin to comprehend this story.
OK, now on to the gameplay.
Fighting is little more than boring, can’t-tell-what’s-going-on, button-mashing. Which I’m guessing is OK, because I kept winning.
Seriously, once you get more than, say, two enemies on the screen at once, it’s just a mess. It is not because my system couldn’t handle it – I’m not saying there was lag or anything – I’m saying there are just too many vivid colors swirling around the screen with the armor and the weapons and the magic and the special effects and the HUD… It is just a technicolor explosion until everybody is dead but you.
This kind of defeats the purpose of the very deep weapons system. If I can beat enemies with whatever standard weapon I just happen to have picked up, why bother upgrading? There seems to be little reward to putting the effort into getting new gear other than some completionist sense of “I did it!”
The puzzles vary wildly from the most common “no problem” to the nearly impossible. Fortunately the latter are few and far between, but they seem so out of place next to the fairly simple ones that make up most of the game. It actually makes them far more frustrating than they would normally be.
Other than the problem of the graphics being too vivid during battle, the game looks amazing. It is very deep, with very rich colors and very detailed worlds and characters. The game looks almost too good, if that makes any sense. I just wanted to stop and stare instead of play. It is like a Thomas Kincade painting of Dracula’s basement put into Photoshop with the saturation and contrast pumped up to 100.
The dialog, however, is iffy at best. Sometimes Death’s snappy comebacks and wry comments made me chuckle, but that is about it. The actor who voices Death does the best he can with what he has, but what he has isn’t very good.
In conclusion: If you are not already a fan of the first game, there is no reason to play this one. You are not missing out on anything. If you are a fan of the first one, I still can’t exactly recommend it, since I don’t know the first one well enough to tell you if it holds up or not. I would imagine if you understood and liked the story from the first one and you are dying to see how this turns out, then go for it. Otherwise, at least wait until the price drops.
Darksiders 2 is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood & Gore, Suggestive Themes, and Violence. This game can also be found on: PS3 and Xbox 360.